Prosecutors say evidence was suppressed in case of Texas death row inmate Melissa Lucio

Melissa Lucio, a Texas woman whose execution was delayed in 2022 amid growing doubts she fatally beat her 2-year-old daughter, had evidence suppressed at her murder trial, according to prosecutors in the case, which has become a cause celebre among people including Kim Kardashian.

As part of an agreement on findings in Lucio’s case, prosecutors and her attorneys say the suppressed evidence, including witness statements and a report by Child Protective Services, would have corroborated Lucio’s defense that her daughter Mariah died of a head injury sustained in an accidental fall down a steep staircase two days before her death.

“She would not have been convicted in light of the suppressed evidence,” according to the 33-page agreement between the office of Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Lucio’s attorneys. The document lays out what both sides say are agreed findings of fact and conclusions of law in the case.

The agreement, which recommends that Lucio’s conviction and death sentence be overturned, is being called unusual and extraordinary by one death penalty expert. But it has remained in limbo for 16 months before a Texas judge, who has yet to say whether she will give it her approval and forward it to the state’s highest criminal court, which would make a final decision.

Lucio, 55, had been set for lethal injection in April 2022 for the 2007 death of her daughter in Harlingen, a city of about 71,000 in Texas’ southern tip. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed her lethal injection two days before her scheduled execution so state District Judge Gabriela Garcia could review Lucio’s claims that new evidence would exonerate her.

Prosecutors had long maintained Mariah was the victim of abuse and noted her body was covered in bruises. In a sometimes contentious hearing with Texas lawmakers two weeks before the scheduled execution, Saenz had said he disagreed with claims from Lucio’s attorneys there was new evidence that would exonerate her.

But in a joint statement with Lucio’s attorneys that was issued Friday, Saenz acknowledged her legal team “did not have access to information favorable to her defense at the time of trial.” Saenz was not the district attorney at the time of Lucio’s trial in 2008.

The statement did not provide more information on why the favorable evidence wasn’t given to Lucio’s lawyers. Saenz’s office and Lucio’s attorney, Vanessa Potkin, declined to comment beyond their joint statement.

“We are grateful to District Attorney Saenz for recognizing that evidence that our baby sister Mariah’s death was an accident, not a murder, was never presented to the jury. We are also thankful to Melissa’s legal team. We hope and pray that our mother can soon come home to her family,” Lucio’s son, John Lucio, and his wife, Michelle, said in a statement.

The suppressed Child Protective Services report indicated that one of Lucio’s children told a CPS worker he was present when Mariah “fell down some stairs.”

The report also revealed all of Lucio’s children told the CPS worker their mother was not abusive to them or Mariah.

The agreed findings also say Lucio’s trial attorneys were not provided statements from two of her other children, who had corroborated to Harlingen police their mother’s claims that Mariah had been injured in a fall and that Lucio had grown increasingly worried about Mariah’s deteriorating health before her death.

Prosecutors provided the suppressed evidence to two experts, including a forensic pathologist, who “concluded that the likely cause of Mariah’s death was an accidental fall resulting in head trauma,” according to the agreed findings.

Saenz and Lucio’s attorneys submitted their agreed findings to Garcia on Dec. 20, 2022. But she has yet to issue a ruling and forward her decision to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which makes the final decision.

Garcia did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Robin Maher, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said the time Garcia is taking to issue a ruling suggests the judge is “giving this case the serious, thoughtful consideration it deserves.”

Maher, whose nonprofit group takes no position on capital punishment but has criticized the way states carry out executions, called the agreement between Saenz and Lucio’s attorneys “quite extraordinary” and “one of those rare instances where both sides have acknowledged an injustice and agree about the remedy.”

Lucio’s case has garnered support from Kardashian and a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including GOP state Rep. Jeff Leach.

“I have long maintained that the system failed Melissa Lucio — and her daughter, Mariah — at every turn and that she should be given a new chance for justice … and a new chance for life,” Leach said in a post Sunday on the social platform X.

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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